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Review: Kill Your Darlings

by Carlos Aguilar
October 10, 2013 3:30 PM
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Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, and Jack Huston in 'Kill Your Darlings'

Icons turned mortals is a premise often attempted when aiming to deliver a humanized version of figures otherwise revered without any context of what experiences or lack of, shaped them into the idol they'd become. For a film that compiles a period of time in the lives of the most iconic American writers of the mid-20th century, John Krokidas' directorial debut is a film painted with a fierce brush of raw passion and youthful madness. Nothing short of what's required to express the complexities of life through the abstraction that are words.

Insecure aspiring poet Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) just got into Columbia University, a decision that would allow him to distant himself from his mentally unstable mother and nourish his talent.  What the couldn't anticipate was that the real schooling would happen to the sight of pouring alcohol, vandalism, and rapturous first love. Ginsberg is receptive to all these newly found sensations of which the main provider is Lucien Carr (Dane DeHann) a seductive young man his age who becomes at once his pal, his inspiration, his detractor, and the poisonous object of his unfocused desired. Lucien introduces his new friend to rich-writer William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster) and his on-and-off lover David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), and expresses his interest in revolutionizing the art of writing by going against the structure, something that draws Allen in with an entrancing power.

A perpetual sense of discovery irradiates through every frame of the film, making it more about the boys’ self-discovery journeys than any specific moment that would lead them to write a given title in their future bibliography. Yet, for all the lack of historical guidance some viewers might be looking for, it packs an evocative mood that feels relevant to the troubling angst of Ginsberg and company. At the center of the plot is not whether or not Allen has what it takes to be a writer, but whether his quiet love for Lucien will allow him to become that writer. Then there is David, the older figure that lures around and enables Lucien’s debauchery, and who has also fallen for his captivating persona. However, when the latter directs his attention towards tough womanizer Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), Allen’s and David’s romantic illusion vanishes and morphs into a plot of murderous, ravishing passion and a dilemma to do what’s right.

Aided by Krokidas artful delivery of the homoerotic tension between the protagonists, Radcliffe shatters his childish image of the boy wizard once and for all. There is an intricate vulnerability in his performance both as a young man discovering his own sexuality and as an aspiring writer. Easily manipulated at first by Lucien, he learns from heartbreak the lessons no classroom could have taught him, and for that becomes a better decision-maker when confronted with deceiving behavior. DeHaan is on point as the aimless rebel who fancies himself an artist without ever having produce any work, a person who lives vicariously through those who he touches and ravages in his path, Michael C. Hall’s character included, who also delivers a flawed homosexual man rendered to fulfill Lucien’s wishes in an effort to protect him.

Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg

Passion is the name of the game in Kill Your Darlings, both Krokidas and his writing partner, Austin Bunn, have a genuine devotion for these characters. Still, the filmmaker doesn’t idolize his subjects but rather exposes them as flesh and bone, with all the irrational complexities of their humanity, and that itself is provocative and refreshing. Broken and lost, in love and enraged, these men that would become legends, are, for all intents and purposes, like everyone else. Sometimes that bane humanity is as compelling as the metaphorical images of a lusciously written poem.

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